What did you ponder on your last nights?
Did you plan on dancing on the morrow
through the pain,
or to give sweets away in thanks?
I cannot believe it was happenstance,
that accident and fate contrived for
such perfection; but nor do I believe
you were not in command of that fate.
You—you prepared your wedding gown
when you saw the end
and could finally sigh in relief,
while you, in joy, communed the night through,
half here, half there, yearning for the dawn,
yearning for the chance for the end
so that you could stand and cry
‘O king!’ as if calling to a servant,
for of course you were, and for that alone would die.
What did you all ponder on your last nights?
What do we?
Curiously, this poem had two creative forces. One, from several years ago was quite clear: my dearest friend and self-adopted brother, Samandary (the English language really ought to have a specific word for this type of relationship—and it’s not ‘bro’) suggested both the idea, the title and much of the substance. Clearly you can understand why it took me so long to bring the poem to fruition, having been given so little to proceed on. (See, Sam, I was listening.)
The second impetus was my recent reading of the book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, an effort to prove—with this being counter intuitive to our every notion—that violence has decreased throughout history and is today at its lowest level ever. It is a brilliant book and one that, quite frankly, I started to read to determine how silly and foolish the author was, only to be converted by the clarity of his writing and the strength of his facts and binding logic. Read it only if you do not fear feeling better about the world.
But there was one section of this book that I disagreed with, and that is the second specific impetus for this poem. Pinker is quite open about being an atheist. I have no problem with this, except that I think it taints his view of the role that self-sacrifice has placed in religious history. His description of the crucifixion process is quite graphic and he progresses from there to describe how religious martyrs have been killed throughout the ages, in a tone which does not so much describe the level of violence that the societies of that day could gleefully inflict (which is his point) but implies the silliness and foolishness of the martyrs to allow themselves to say or do anything that would set them up for such treatment.
I could not disagree more. To me, that “silliness and foolishness” is better called “certitude and conviction” and was not done to invite violence, but was done courageously in the face of such evil, so as to change it, one of the causes in the reduction of violence throughout the ages that Pinker does not care to suggest. Moreover, such courage is the hallmark of all the world religions.
We in the Bahá’í Faith are no exception to the history of relentless religious persecution. The different incidents referred to in this poem of how four stalwart heroes prepared for, or acted, during their martyrdom, actually happened. In fact, Bahá’í martyrdom still happens in Iran to this day, the most recent being just a few weeks ago. True martyrdom is never sought, but when inflicted by evil, bigoted people, it is faced with courage, resignation, self-sacrifice, love and humility. And I, for one, will always honor them.
Thank you for reading Last nights. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.
PS: By the way, Iran English Radio, the official Iranian radio for English speaking peoples followed my blog after the publication of another poem in which I highlighted the persecution of religious minorities and the destruction of basic human rights in that country. I have little hope that my or your appeal to their humanity would make any difference, but be aware that they may read your comments. Also, Iran English Radio has yet to ‘like’ any of my poetry. Frankly, I’m hurt.
© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.